Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Ever feel the need to have a good old-fashioned cry? Well, you're in luck, because research indicates there are multiple physical and mental health benefits associated with crying emotional tears.
First, the physical health benefits of emotional crying might surprise you. Dr. William Frey, a biochemist, at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered several interesting things about human reflex and emotional tears. Reflex tears are 98% water, and are caused from things like peeling onions, allergies, or when debris becomes lodged in your eye.
In addition to the water found in reflex tears, emotional tears were found to contain stress hormones, which get excreted from the body when we cry.
Dr. Frey found emotional tears not only contain stress hormones, harmful toxins are also expelled which tend to accumulate during times of stress. Additional studies suggest crying stimulates the production of endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain killing hormones that make us feel good.
The absence of emotional tears can lead to added stress. Allowing stress to build up in our bodies over time can; decrease endorphins, lead to heart problems, high blood pressure, and ulcers- just to name a few.
Second, with all the physical benefits of crying emotional tears, it’s unfortunate some family cultures promote the camouflaging of fearful and sad feelings. Suppressing sad thoughts, and holding back emotional tears, over time, can exacerbate depressive and anxiety related mental health conditions.
Chances are, if you're male, you've heard at least one of the following phrases at some point in your lifetime. "Crying is for sissies.” “Crying never solves anything.” “You better stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about".
Males aren’t the only ones criticized for expressing fearful, sad emotions. When females cry emotional tears, terms such as “drama queen” “unstable” or, “attention seeking” are common descriptors. Whereas, males are, at times, viewed as "weak" or "immature" when they cry.
Third, even though some family cultures raise their young to believe emotional crying is pure nonsense, the exact opposite is true. It takes strength, humility, and bravery to allow ourselves to express authentic feelings by shedding emotional tears.
Whereas, it only takes a bit of practice to hide authentic feelings behind a mask. Family cultures with a history of discouraging emotional tears, sometimes model the act of replacing sad feelings with negative, angry outbursts.
More specifically, in such families, it’s not acceptable to cry when you’re upset. Yet, yelling, name calling, or destroying property is accepted and sometimes even encouraged.
Ironically, anger is a secondary emotion which often acts as a mask, if to will, to hide initial, or primary feelings of sadness, and fear. This type of learned behavior- camouflaging sad/fearful feelings, while exhibiting anger, tends to get passed down from one generation to the next, and can contribute to long term, negative communication styles within the family unit.
In an attempt to gather data related to crying trends in America, I set up a single question survey on, Polls for Pages, in June of 2017, which consisted of a single question;
"Was crying an acceptable behavior in your childhood home?"
Two-thirds of the 32 participants answered [yes], while the other one-third answered [no]. One significant variable not shown on the chart above, 91% of the participants were women. Based on the raw data collected, approximately 33% of females surveyed were raised in homes which discouraged expressing primary emotions through emotional tears.
If crying was discouraged in your childhood home, know this: There should be no shame in emotional tears. One amazing way for men, and women, to grow emotionally and thereby improve relationships with self, and others, is to practice courage by- taking off the mask. Consider this your personal challenge to be brave, and let go of any lingering guilt resulting from honest expression of primary feelings.
Finally, the next time you’re feeling sad or afraid, instead of acting-out in anger, grab a box of tissues to connect with your initial, primary emotions. And if someone asks, “Why are you crying?” Tell them about this blog post and say, “I’m working to improve my physical and mental health. I’m crying because I’m brave.”
PS; Anonymous shout out to the 32 volunteers who took the time to complete the online crying survey pictured above.
Misti Luke is a licensed behavioral health therapist. She maintains a private practice in beautiful Broken Bow, Oklahoma where she provides outpatient, mental health and substance abuse services to motivated adult clients. For correspondence, firstname.lastname@example.org